Following his appointment to the post of Prime Minister after a disputed presidential election, in a divided society torn apart by political instability and mutual accusations for March 1 violence, Tigran Sargsyan, the former head of Armenia’s Central Bank has been dominating the news and politics – the PM has been making media bubbles by loud and populist actions, like forcing Armenian ministers to come to work at 9 a.m and promising to be more transparent in their work, respond to the needs and inquiries of citizens, etc., etc.
So far Tigran Sargsyan led government has been mostly making loud anti-corruption campaigns – the PM has been promising improvement and government attention to all and everyone he’s met so far: environmentalists, cultural workers, bankers, farmers. He has also been brave in announcing unpopular moves – ending state subsidies for gas which significantly raised the price of the blue fuel for the population, enforcing the usage of control-cash machines in fairs and markets announced yesterday, which will most likely result in protests and more price rises of consumer goods.
The anti-corruption activities among the traffic police and customs, tax-inspection services, were initially perceived as demonstrative, populist and short-term measures, however, they seem to be rendering some positive results so far: a) police seem to have become more restrained in their bribe-collection undertakings and are paying more attention to actually following traffic, although they have still miles to go before we have anything that resembles real police and not mauradeurs and bandits in uniforms; b) my accountant’s recent visit to the tax office was a very positive experience – from what he told me, as it has become easier to submit finance reports at just one location, instead of running around in the tax office banging doors of officials and begging for signatures, which is further confirmed by reports from other people and is starting to inspire with hope; c) some high profile arrests of corrupt police and tax inspection officials took place over the past months, and the last arrest, by looking at the sheer size of the uncovered operations, was clearly a very well connected gang.
At any rate, many are skeptical about the activities of Prime Minister Sargsyan. In his recent speech opposition leader Levon Ter-Petrossian sharply criticized the authorities and said the anti-corruption actions are mostly staged and pressures are building on small and medium enterprises, while the state-connected businessmen/oligarchs remain in the capacity of ‘untouchables’. Following from the text of Levon Ter-Petrossian’s speech, however, it seems, that even in his criticism of the authorities, the opposition leader acknowledges Tigran Sargsyan’s desire to make genuine change, and puts the blame mostly on Kocharyan appointees like Armen Grigoryan for failures. And while figures for economic growth in Armenia for the first half of the year look promising with 10.3% GDP growth reported so far and economic experts tell me in private conversations, that the tax revenues of the state have been growing at an unprecedented pace, it is still too early to predict what will be the end of the new quest Prime Minister Sargsyan is on.